Evgenij Onegin, Opera by P. I. Tchaikovsky
Evgenij Onegin – or Eugene Onegin, as it is known in English – is a Russian curiosity in all its forms. As a novel in verse by the incomparable Alexander Pushkin, it captured the hearts of generations of readers with the lyrical power and emotional depth of its plot and characters. The undoubted charms of the literary work compelled Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to consider adapting it for the opera stage. Initially doubtful, the composer slowly but surely fell in love with the idea and dedicated the latter half of 1877 to assembling a libretto of direct outtakes from Pushkin’s original text and setting it to music. As such, Eugene Onegin is almost exclusively the creative effort of Tchaikovsky, with Konstantin Shilovsky adding a few accidental verses in Act II. The famous lyric opera now burns bright under the limelight of Teatro Costanzi in Rome.
To adapt the story of the proud, selfish and careless anti-hero Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky opted to focus on a collection of pivotal moments from the original story rather than create a coherent storyline. Relying on the fame of Pushkin’s novel, the composer assembled a series of ‘lyrical scenes’ as he called them to reveal the character-forming milestones and enhance them with his dramatic score. The outtakes paint a picture of the proud Eugene Onegin who rejects the pure love of Tatyana and carelessly enters into a duel with his best friend Lensky. Both acts will have tremendous consequences, making Eugene Onegin a brilliantly told cautionary tale about the dangers of vanity, capriciousness and pride.
Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin debuted at Moscow’s Maly Theatre on 29 March 1879 and made its way to the much grander stage of the Bolshoi Theatre on 23 January 1881. It enjoyed great popularity throughout Imperial Russia and had considerable success throughout Europe as well. The Russian composer’s beloved lyrical scenes now come to the Rome Opera House and promise to get audiences’ blood boiling with the passion of romance, honour and loss.